Experts fear energy crisis will make air pollution much worse

With heating bills going through the roof, many Czechs are turning back to solid fuels, stocking up on coal, firewood and in the worst-case scenario, burning household waste, including plastics. Environmental experts are warning of the multiple dangers to human health and the environment.  

The dark smoke coming from many chimneys in the regions is a clear indication of what is happening. After a massive government campaign aimed at getting people to switch to EU and state-sponsored eco-friendly forms of heating, such as pellet stoves and biomass boilers, many Czechs are turning back to their old stoves and using solid fuels to heat their homes.

Photo: Kristýna Maková,  Radio Prague International

There has been a scramble for firewood and those who are not buying it are collecting smaller branches lying around in the forest for free, which is permissible under Czech law.

Bronislav Konečný, head of the Valtice Forest District says the interest in firewood this year has been so big there are waiting lists for deliveries. People can also cut, chop and transport the trees themselves. There has already been at least one death in the forest reported due to unprofessional felling.

In an effort to save money many people are ignoring the fact that freshly felled or collected wood usually contains up to 60 percent water and needs at least a year to dry, preferably two to three. Experts warn that heating with fresh wood is not only inefficient, but downright dangerous.

"Burning freshly cut wood produces dioxins – carcinogenic substances - which we breathe in and which settle in our lungs," says Štěpán Rychlík from the Czech Hydrometeorological Institute.

Experts also warn people against burning household waste, including plastics, in a solid fuel boiler.

Illustrative photo: Hyena~commonswiki,  Wikimedia Commons,  public domain

"When plastics are burned at low temperatures, they don't completely decompose and polycyclic pollutants are formed. Moreover, they smother the flame and lower the temperature further and even more dioxins are produced in the process," says František Skácel from the University of Chemical Technology.

Burning waste produces large amounts of tar and other substances, which can result in a fire hazard.

The amount of so-called fugitive dust in the air is regularly monitored by about 100 stations of the Czech Hydrometeorological Institute. Given the current situation, Štěpán Rychlík says we must prepare for a drop in air quality, particularly in heavily industrialized regions such as Ostrava and north Bohemia where air pollution is a problem at the best of times.